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  • Writer's pictureDavid Gribble

ECFC Women | Development Team Update

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

In what has proved a frustrating twelve months for grassroots football, Exeter City’s development team have felt that frustration as much as anyone.

Five wins from their opening five games, alongside a staggering positive 42 goal difference, saw the Young Grecians head the table and look the clear favourites for promotion. Sadly, the curtailment of the season will mean the team will now seek to repeat their dominance in the 2021/2022 campaign. I spoke with Development Team Manager Sam Sharpe to review the positives from the season and to learn more about his role at Exeter City.

After being accepted onto the UEFA B license programme, Sam was in need of coaching a team that were competing in a Senior League, Exeter City proved to be an ideal partnership for both parties. “Aaron and Abbie introduced me to the development team, being a group of talented players, who were all younger than me, it was a perfect match.”

As the head of such a young team, Sam’s role is also a pivotal part of the transition Exeter City’s female footballers make from the Sport’s Academy at Exeter College to senior football. “Around half of the outfield squad play in the Football Academy at Exeter College, which is really beneficial to the girls. I have a good relationship with the college coaches, but my role with them is merely advisory.”

As with all Development Squads, the emphasis is on development. In providing young players with competitive senior football the hope is that they will progress towards City’s National League side. “Ideally, the development team creates a clear pathway from the youth development centre, all the way to the senior team.

"The aim is to get as many players training and playing with the first team as possible whilst I am here, with the ultimate objective being to get them fully promoted to the first team. This season multiple players have managed to achieve this.”

The pathway is showing significant signs of working, with several players impressing in, what was to prove, a brief season. Chloe Harris was promoted to the first-team-squad for the game at Southampton, whilst players such as Megan Lightfoot and Phoebe Durkin benefited from Development Team games before progressing to the National League side.

“When we have managed to play, performances have far exceeded my already high expectations. They have brushed aside some tricky fixtures with ease and produced an excellent comeback from 3-1 down at half time against Plainmoor to win 4-3 and preserve that perfect record.”

Within that run of exemplary results has come several individual performances that caught Sam’s attention, as players responded to the expectations set for them. “Everyone has been so impressive this season. Based on the league fixtures we played, I think I would hand top scorer Chloe Harris the player of the season title. Antonia Nash also stepped up as captain, and Livia Pinker was perhaps the most consistent player out of everyone.

“Kelsey Salter also really impressed me, especially with her improved work rate from the season prior. The very versatile Natasha Harvey and Rowan Karkeek formed a superb partnership at centre-back in the last couple of games, and that should really blossom next season, even at a higher level. Emma Hunt coming up from the Girls Development Centre looks a real talent, too.”

With City’s Senior side now under a new management duo, the relationship between themselves and Sam will be important as both sides look to be successful in the coming season. “We could not have a better relationship. We very often train alongside each other and have lengthy discussions regarding the teams and fixtures. Aaron and Abbie are always willing to help whenever they can, and it makes the entire process we are trying to implement at the club a lot easier for everyone.”

Exeter City’s Development Team will return to football in the coming weeks as, whilst the league campaign is no longer, the Devon County Supplementary Cup begins with the young Grecians facing Seaton Town in the opening round. The team will be confident of a good Cup run, but attention over the coming months will be focused on the new campaign.

“I’m not 100% sure what the season will look like, but hopefully the team will be ready to compete for another strong finish in a higher league. The players that are now ready to compete at a higher level will hopefully find the opportunity to do so, and new young players will come in and replenish the squad ahead of another prosperous campaign.”

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